Social Work: Search for Identity

Social Work: Search for Identity

Social Work: Search for Identity

Social Work: Search for Identity


Acknowledgments Introduction The 1920s: Diversity and the Beginnings of Professionalism In Search of Professional Standards: Changes in the AASW Membership Requirements Social Workers and Political Action: AASW Involvement in Social Planning During the Depression Social Work and Public Service: Efforts toward a Professional Public Welfare Program Confusion and Consolidation: Professional Identification During World War II Public Service vs. Professional Standards: Conflict in Social Work Education in the 1940s Broadening the Knowledge Base: Social Work's Use of Social Science in the 1950s Attempts at Unity: Formation of the National Association of Socal Workers Conclusion Bibliographical Note Bibliography Index


In December, 1935, the Social Security Board appointed Jane Hoey head of its new Bureau of Public Assistance. Like her friend Harry Hopkins, Hoey was a professional social worker, with a diploma from the New York School of Social Work. Over the next few years, she and her staff developed a model for a professional public assistance program. Its implementation was only partly successful. the story of its creation and problems helps reveal the larger relation of professional social work to the development of a state/federal public welfare system between 1935 and 1940.

The relation between professional social work and public welfare was shaped by internal debates and external pressures. As in the controversies over involvement in national planning and reform and the responsibility of the profession to the new, untrained worker of the thirties, social workers differed in their views about public social services. Champions of public welfare had different conceptions about how it should be organized and staffed. Outside of the profession, politicians and established officials had their own ideas about structure and the use of social work.

Debates took shape around a variety of administrative principles. Yet the crux of the discussion was the nature of staffing of the new public services. Who would hold the public assistance jobs created by the Social Security Act? What kinds of training would prepare them for their functions? Jane Hoey and her team had definite ideas, which reflected an orientation toward professional social work. To adapt these ideas to the reality of the public welfare bureaucracy in a political milieu was to temper ideal standards by actual conditions. Outsiders as well as insiders defined the shape of social work.

In 1935 the profession had no clearly formulated ideal of the public welfare system and social work's relation to it. certain basic principles were agreed upon: government should finance and administer general relief, it should provide social insurance, and a single federal agency should coordinate the two. Social work could promote and help plan for the incorporation of these principles into a broad program of social welfare. Here, professional leaders felt, lay their major expertise. Yet as the action changed from political debate and planning to actual administration, social workers became less clear and unified about their role. Should they maintain a responsibility to the developing public welfare . . .

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